Kenya confirmed its first Covid-19 case on March 12, 2020, the case being of a Kenyan citizen who had traveled back into the country from the United States of America. As the number of cases continued to increase steadily the government imposed a countrywide curfew on March 27, 2020, between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Subsequently, on April 6, 2020, the government-imposed cessation of movement from the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and the counties Mombasa, Kilifi, and Kwale. Though, agriculture and transportation of agriculture products were designated as essential services and exempt from restriction in movement, these and other measures imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 disrupted the agricultural value chain and negatively affected small-scale farming in Kenya.

CAR-BOOT VENDORS: Vendors along the Northern Bypass sell food items to motorists from the boots of their cars. Another way to survive the coronavirus Image: /MERCY MUMO

Agricultural logistics in Kenya remains grossly inefficient and informal, with 28 percent[1] of Kenyaโ€™s agricultural production market value going to logistics as opposed to the global average of 13 percent. Small-scale farmersโ€™ produce is transported in passenger vehicles from rural areas to urban centers, with the majority of the produce being consumed in Nairobi. The aggregation and transport of the produce are handled by market traders who are mostly women.

The nationwide curfew and cessation of movement into the Nairobi Metropolitan Region and the Coastal counties caused large-scale disruption to this vital agriculture supply chain. As a result, farmersโ€™ produce could not be transported into markets as the majority of passenger vehicles were grounded and the traders could not travel to rural areas to collect the produce. The available transport was inefficient and expensive.ย  This caused a drastic decline in prices of agricultural produce resulting in income shocks for smallholder farmers. In a survey conducted by TechnoServe in July and November 2020[2] in various developing countries including Kenya, 54% of small-scale farmers surveyed reported immediate reductions in income, this eased to 24% in November as restrictions were eased and supply chains opened up. Majority of the farmers (62%) who faced income shocks attributed this to a reduction in produce prices.

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Lockdowns in developed countries where horticultural crops produced by small scale-farmers are exported led to reduced demand and further downward pressure on the prices for horticultural produce. Other factors leading to lower prices included the closure of hotel and restaurant sectors leading to shift in demand from commercial to household sectors and closure of markets in a bid to observe social distancing requirements.

Covid-19 negatively affected the manufacturing of farm inputs and strained global supply chains resulting in shortages and an increase in prices of farm inputs while locally the lockdowns and cessation movements orders increased transportation costs for farm inputs leading to even higher prices. The increased input prices together with reduced farmers income meant that small-scale farmers invested less in their farms by reducing inputs and hired labor. A survey of Kenyan Farmers by 60_Decibels[3] a social impact measurement company carried between June 2020 and May 2021 reported that three-quarters of farmers surveyed experienced higher input prices than usual. A further 50% of farmers surveyed reported reducing the amounts of inputs purchased due to a decrease in disposable income. The reduced investment and market uncertainty led to a decrease in production by small-scale farmers.

Small scale farmers used a variety of ways to cope and survive the negative effects of Covid-19 on their livelihoods. 60_Decibels survey found that two-thirds of farmers surveyed had some savings which they relied upon, but as time went by and the savings were depleted farmers relied on more risker methods to cope such as borrowing from digital loans apps and other family members. Small scale farmers also coped by cutting hired agricultural labor and substituting it with labor from family members. Farming in itself provided a coping mechanism as more farmers relied on farming to survive either by relying on animals/crops for income and food.

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Building a reliable and resilient agricultural supply chains for both farm inputs and agricultural produce is key to ensuring stable incomes for small-holder farmers in the long term. One way of achieving this is by use of digital platforms connecting small-scale farmers directly with consumers in urban areas. These platforms cut out middlemen increasing the percentage of the value received by farmers. The main hindrance to use of digital platforms include limited access by farmers to the internet and digital devices and lack of means to ensure the product delivered meets standard quality. Private companies such as Twiga Foods are building agriculture supply chain platforms by partnering with small-scale farmers and delivering quality products to retailers (mama mbogas).

Additionally, the government needs to develop better social protection mechanisms to protect farmers during periods of crisis. Small-scale farmers demonstrated resilience and ingenuity to survive Covid-19 but more needs to be done by government, private sector and the development organizations to prepare and provide support to small-holder farmers to manage future crisis with minimal disruptions.

 

[1] Dalberg, Agriculture Logistics in Kenya, September 2020.

[2] TechnoServe, Impact of Covid-19 on Small Holder Farmers and Agricultural Supply Chains, December 2020.

[3] 60_Decibels, Things we learned from Kenyan Farmers during Covid-19, October 2021.